Chemostratigraphic reconstruction of biofacies: Molecular evidence linking cyst-forming dinoflagellates with pre-Triassic ancestors

J. Michael Moldowan, Jeremy Dahl, Stephen R. Jacobson, Bradley J. Huizinga, Frederick J. Fago, Rupa Shetty, David S. Watt, Kenneth E. Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


New data from numerous detailed mass-spectrometric studies have detected triaromatic dinosteroids in Precambrian to Cenozoic rock samples. Triaromatic dinosteroids are organic geochemicals derived from dinosterols, compounds known in modern organisms to be the nearly exclusive widely occurring products of dinoflagellates. We observed the ubiquitous occurrence of these dinosteroids in 49 Late Triassic through Cretaceous marine source rocks and the absence of them in 13 Permian-Carboniferous source rocks synergistic with the dinoflagellate cyst record. However, finding dinosteroids in lower Paleozoic and Precambrian strata presents challenging results for molecular paleontologists, evolutionary biologists, palynologists, and especially for those concerned with the food web at various times of biological crisis. Other than the few species known as parasites and symbionts, many other dinoflagellate species are important as primary producers. The presence of Precambrian to Devonian triaromatic dinosteroids gives chemostratigraphic evidence of dinoflagellates (or other organisms with similar chemosynthetic capabilities) in rocks significantly older than the oldest undisputed dinoflagellate fossils (dinoflagellate cysts from the Middle Triassic, ∼240 Ma), and older than the putative Silurian (∼420 Ma) dinocyst, Arpylorus antiquus (Calandra) Sargent, from Tunisia. This systematic chemostratigraphic approach can shed light not only on lineages of dinoflagellates and their precursors, but potentially on many other lineages, especially bacteria, algae, plants, and possibly some metazoans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-162
Number of pages4
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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